Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Pal Cabron and His Cemitas

Back when I was first learning Spanish and working in Dallas, I was intending to order tacos al carbon but instead ordered "tacos al cabron" which led to a laugh riot among the restaurant staff and my co-workers. Cabron, as I later learned, is a sometimes-curse word in Spanish. It's one of those words that is hard to translate, but the polite translation would probably be something akin to macho man or, really, macho shit-head. The cabron is the guy with more machismo than sense.

Pa'l Cabron, near as I can tell, is an abbreviation for para el cabron, a restaurant for the Macho shit head. The restaurant was founded by the owners of the popular Oacacan mini-chain Guelaguetza and originally opened in Huntington Park but has migrated to the location of the original Guelaguetza on 8th Street west of Irolo.

The cabron theme is apparent in both the decor and the cuisine. The walls are decorated with mini-comics, sort of like the bottom of the page illustrations in Mad Magazine, showing the bearded, pot-bellied cabron in various absurd situations, like running over pedestrians in his car while he day dreams about cemitas. And while I tried to ignore the sketches of absurdly large breasted women, it's hard not to like the portrait of the cabron wrestling two donkey piñatas, a painting that is flanked by two mounted donkey piñata heads (presumably showing that the cabron won that fight).

The cuisine is casual food. Tlayudas, the Oaxacan pizzas, are offered here as they are at Guelaguetza, but the highlight at Pal Cabron is the cemitas. Cemitas are Mexican sandwiches, much like tortas but served on Mexican sweet bread instead of a white roll. The cemitas at Pal Cabron are unbelievable good, and once I started going there for a cemitas lunch, it was hard to stop.

La Muy Muy, a pork milanesa cemita (all of the sandwiches have cute little names) was probably the best milanesa sandwich I've ever had and I'm a huge fan of milanesa. Pounded, breaded, deep fried pork with queso fresco, avocado, quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), papalo (a Central American herb with a sort of arugala like bite) and a choice of the sweet chipotle ketchup like sauce or tangy pickled jalapeños (both are great). The pork cutlet was painfully good, with the right balance of crunch and tenderness...I wanted another one right away! Mark my word, this is one of LA's greatest sandwiches.

The La De Barbacha is advertised as a lamb sandwich but tastes more like goat; perhaps it is mutton. Stewed in a red sauce, it has a nice gamey taste similar to the popular Oaxacan goat soups.

I also enjoyed La Cabrona, a sandwich which combines a beef milanesa and a few slices of head cheese. While the beef milanesa is not quite as rich as the pork, the head cheese gives it a nice smoky, ham flavor.

As anyone who loves Langer's or Bay Cities can tell you, a sandwich is only as good as its bread, and the bread on these cemitas is part of the beauty of the sandwich. They are made on huge, round, sesame studded rolls baked fresh at the restaurant. The rolls are crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft within. The crunch of the crust is an essential part of the gestalt that makes these sandwiches so amazing.

While they didn't all reach the heights of the pork milanesa, every sandwich I had at Pal Cabron was great. I'm not kidding, the first time I went to Pal Cabron, I felt compelled to return the next day. The place is addictive, and I can see how you could end up with a belly like the pictured cabron.

Pal Cabron
3337 1/2 W. 8th Street (where the original Guelaguetza was)
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 427-0601

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